An arc of stability in Southeastern Europe

As of yesterday, a new reality is in force on Greece’s northern borders. Bulgaria and Romania have entered the European Union to form, along with Greece, an arc of stability in Southeastern Europe, and a European springboard to the markets of the Caucasus. Benefits To a certain extent, Greece may lose the privileged role it has had until now of being the sole EU member state in the Balkans, but it can only gain from the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. It has been incorporated into the landmass of the EU; it will no longer bear alone the burden of policing and customs checks on the southeastern border of the EU; its heavy investments in those countries will be secure; more favorable trade conditions will be created; and it will have unhindered access to the Danube, the great waterway that links the markets of Central Europe with those on the shores of the Black Sea and in Central Asia. What was once seen as a political danger from the north will now become a socioeconomic threat. Will the Greek market be flooded with cheap Bulgarian and Romanian products? Should we expect caravans of the poor seeking work and the risk of unemployment going sky high? The experts counsel composure, assuring us that nothing will change, since Bulgarians and Romanians can travel in the EU using their identity cards on the condition that the details are written in the Latin alphabet. The same will apply to other Europeans who want to travel to Bulgaria and Romania. As for whether nationals of the two new member countries can live and work freely in EU states, Greece has decided to postpone implementation of the agreement for two years. During that period, national legislation will predominate over EU legislation and most of the present restrictions will apply. But even when the transitional period is over, there is still not likely to be a massive influx. Fears of Romanian plumbers or Bulgarian seasonal workers are pointless. Both countries are in the process of rapid development and the flow of workers to Greece has already abated. The Greek Embassy in Sofia says that the number of seasonal workers leaving Bulgaria for Greece has fallen by 50 percent. Products Customs checks at Prohamonas and other border crossings with Bulgaria have been abolished. Cargo will be checked at its destination, while that coming from non-EU countries by way of Bulgaria and Romania will be checked on the borders between the countries. Products from both countries will be freely available in Greece, as long as they meet EU health and safety requirements. Bulgarian products are already widely available in Greece, and have done no harm to Greek agriculture or stock farming. Nor will they do any harm in the future, given that their cost of production is close to that of Greece’s. Borders have never been created to satisfy the needs of local populations, but to serve the plans of the powerful. The same applies to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913, which shaped the Greek-Bulgarian border. Some Greeks and Bulgarians were left behind on the other side, migrating en masse later to nation states. Strong ties Despite the tough years that followed, ties remained strong, and when the Eastern bloc fell in the early 1990s, people on the borders started moving to and fro again. Greeks started trading in the southern provinces of Bulgaria, and Bulgarian seasonal workers flooded into Greece. Greeks shop in Sandanski and look for wives in Haskovo, while cross-border programs for the environment, culture, tourism and combating crime have brought the neighbors closer. «The climate is very friendly and we are ready for the next big change,» Petritisi Mayor Theodoros Taliouridis told Kathimerini. «History doesn’t determine the future, which we think will be built on the joint efforts of Greeks and Bulgarians.»

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